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PODCAST: From the scullery to the Senate, Rex Patrick, senator for South Australia

PODCAST: From the scullery to the Senate, Rex Patrick, senator for South Australia
Senator Rex Patrick with Defence Connect Podcast host, Phil Tarrant.

Newly minted senator for South Australia and former submariner Rex Patrick is already making waves within Parliament and Defence, and this week he joins the Defence Connect Podcast to talk us through his ambitions for the job and what we can expect to see from him in 2018.

Newly minted senator for South Australia and former submariner Rex Patrick is already making waves within Parliament and Defence, and this week he joins the Defence Connect Podcast to talk us through his ambitions for the job and what we can expect to see from him in 2018.

The former defence industry contractor takes us through his defence and political career so far, starting from his 11 years in the Navy, his work with then opposition spokesman for defence David Johnston and his role as media adviser to Nick Xenophon.

In this no holds barred podcast, Patrick explains the role he played in revealing that there was a leak within Naval Group to the Australian government, what this means for the Future Submarines project and how he hopes to see Australia develop a sovereign shipbuilding capability.

Enjoy the podcast,
The Defence Connect team.


Listen to previous episodes of the Defence Connect podcast:

Episode 439: PODCAST: Australia’s growing need for a national security strategy, with Andrew Wallace MP
Episode 438: PODCAST: Delivering Black Hawk in record time and setting the record straight on Army’s Aviation evolution
Episode 437: PODCAST: Life after Parliament and the changing geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific, with Scott Morrison
Episode 436: PODCAST: Private capital key to driving SME growth, with Mark Stevens
Episode 435: PODCAST: Putting veteran families first, with the Families of Veterans Guild’s Renee Wilson
Episode 434: SPOTLIGHT: Mission engineering – a missing piece of the capability puzzle, with Downer’s Rachel Hatton and Nathan Rickard
Episode 433: SPOTLIGHT: Introducing the Australian Digital Defence Industry Matrix, with BenchOn’s Tim Walmsley
Episode 432: SPOTLIGHT: What does sovereignty mean in a post-DIDS industry? With Stephen Kowal, CEO of Atturra
Episode 431: PODCAST: Developing Army’s hand-to-hand combatives program, with Paul Cale
Episode 430: PODCAST: Aussie innovation supporting navies around the world, with Jeffrey Hawkins, Pivot Maritime International

Announcer: Welcome to the Defence Connect podcast, with your host, Phil Tarrant.

Phil Tarrant: Well, good day everyone, it's Phil Tarrant here, I'm the host of the Defence Connect podcast, thanks for joining us today, special guest in the studio, Senator Rex Patrick. Rex, how you going?

Rex Patrick: Yeah, good, thanks, Phil.

Phil Tarrant: Thanks for coming up and seeing us, I know it's a long way from your home turf of South Australia, but it's good that you can come up here to Sydney and have a chat with us today, I do appreciate it. So, you've been in the seat now since November of last year, as a newly minted senator, made a bit of a name for yourself so far. You enjoyed the ride so far?

Rex Patrick: Look, it's very, very interesting, I really enjoy what I do. It's a great pleasure and honour to be able to represent South Australia in the Senate, I take that responsibility very, very seriously, both from a South Australian perspective, and particularly in relation to defence issues from a national perspective.

Phil Tarrant: I was checking out your website before we come on air, and you're a busy guy, your portfolio is foreign affairs, defence, environment and energy, employment workplace relations, trade and investment, industry science innovation, treasury, finance, transport and infrastructure. How do you balance defence into all that?

Rex Patrick: It's very difficult, and that's the difficulty you have with a very small party, is that you have to take on lots and lots of responsibilities. Prior to entering into the Nick Xenophon sphere, I did a bit of work with David Johnston when he was the shadow defence minister, and we focused almost solely on defence issues. Now I'm in the situation where I do have to manage my time, I have to represent constituents as well, so it is very difficult. The one nice thing about it is whilst I'm very, very strongly in favour of defence, I'm a keen defence advocate, I get a perspective where I get to see other problem areas of government, our welfare, health, education, and a lot of people who are immersed in the defence world don't necessarily get to see some of the things I do see as a result of either constituent issues or indeed the broad portfolio that I have.

Phil Tarrant: It is a broad portfolio, but I'll keep our conversation today around defence and national security, and hopefully we can achieve a couple of things from this chat. I really want to get just your observations around naval shipbuilding plans, your view on the direction of Defence and defence industry in the decades ahead, considering the massive investment that's going into it right now. Obviously, a number of major decisions coming out this year in terms of big acquisitions, Frigates and LAND 400 vehicles, so there's quite a lot happening at the moment. I know late last year at the Senate Estimates, you were very vocal in terms of asking relevant people within the defence ecosystem some challenging questions to see where we are with certain things, and I guess your role in the Senate is to make sure those questions get asked and hopefully get answered. We'll cover off some of that stuff today if that all sounds fair and reasonable.

Rex Patrick: Fantastic.

Phil Tarrant: A lot of people probably, well they might know that maybe you're leaning towards defence and national security, is that you're an ex-Navy man, you were in the service for a little while, weren't you?

Rex Patrick: Yeah, I joined the Navy from school actually, when I was 16 years old, and I spent 11 years in the Navy. I remember my first job in the Navy was scullery in the ward room of HMAS Leeuwin, so I've gone from scullery to senator.

Phil Tarrant: There you go, that's not a bad projection, is it?

Rex Patrick: Yeah, I guess that shows you what Australia can mean to people, in that you have opportunities to do all sorts of things.

Phil Tarrant: In terms of becoming a Senator, was that an ambition or a goal, or is it just something that happened?

Rex Patrick: No, it wasn't an ambition. I've always taken the view that whatever job I'm given, I just focus on that job. What's happened is, people have pulled me up to the next level. When I started working with David Johnston in the senate, and I did that pro-bono, it was really because I wanted to see some changes. I cared about the area in defence that I was most familiar with, which was submarines. I did the same thing with Nick [Xenophon] pro-bono for a while, and after working with him, I decided actually I'm happy to join his team, and I actually was running my own companies at the time, and basically have put those to sleep, joined Nick and had no ambition at that time to become a senator.

In fact, he asked me prior to the last election if I wanted to be on the ticket, and I said no. When he decided to shift to South Australian politics, he got serious about pushing me to take that role, and I gave that some consideration. Now I'm here, and now I'm going to try and do the best job I can as a senator.

Phil Tarrant: Tell me about the first day as a senator, when you woke up in the morning and put a suit on and went, "Okay, it's time to be a senator," what was the first thing you did when you walked into the office?

Rex Patrick: Well, it's a difficult thing even defining when I became a senator.

Phil Tarrant: When you started, yeah.

Rex Patrick: Obviously there were rumours running around that I was going to replace Nick Xenophon's casual vacancy. There was an interesting development in terms of initially, my position to fill that casual vacancy was in actual fact challenged. I think formally I became a senator the day the South Australian parliament elected me to replace Nick, and then the next day I was in Canberra in the Senate getting sworn in. I think most people saw me launch onto the scene after I'd sworn in, I remember the first day in the senate, I hit the ground running. I was involved in asking questions of Mathias Cormann at question time on my first day, and I think on the second day I sought an order for production for documents relating to Murray Darling, so I sort of hit the ground running. That's the benefit of being able to or having served as an advisor in the senate, it was very familiar territory for me.

Phil Tarrant: When you sit there after every day in the senate, and you know it's a very diverse role, whether it's in estimates or dealing with constituents or party colleagues, how do you sort of mark yourself after every day when you go, "How well did I do today, did I achieve this, did I achieve this?", how do you sort of reflect on just what you're doing?

Rex Patrick: Well, I'm helped a lot by my advisors, who are very frank with me, and that's something I enjoy, I like my advisors telling me exactly what they think. That's part of the mutual sort of respect we work with each other. Look, I've got no problems being critiqued, and I do self-critique. Sometimes I will make mistakes, I have in the past, I no doubt will in the future. My rule is try not to make the same mistake again.

Phil Tarrant: That's not a bad way to live, you know you don't want to keep doing the same thing over and over and over. Prior to your appointment to the senate, your name might be familiar with our listeners within different circles around a bit of a document leak, back when you were working in Malaysia, you happy to have a quick chat about that? I'm quite interested in the backstory of that, and what you found and how you found it, and what you think it means for I guess the submarine build moving forward, and where there is any key security issues as a result of it.

Rex Patrick: Yeah look, I'm very happy to talk about that, and I think it's important to talk about it. I have actually put some of this story on the record in the parliament. Look, back in 2013, I was running my own companies, I had a company from Singapore who were doing work in Malaysia, contacted me and said, "Look, we need some help. We're having a few issues on the ground with some training programs," they were doing 101 training, what is Navy, what is sonar, what is radar, what's an admiral, what's a leading seaman. I said, "Look, I think I can probably help you," but I had to do some due diligence. I asked them to send me what it was that they had, such that I could work out, A, could I help them, and B, what might it cost.

When they sent me the information that they had, they sent it via a disc, I had a look through it, and there it was of course a whole bunch of unclassified material, but hidden away in one sub directory was 22,000 pages of detailed documentation on the combat system on the French-designed Scorpenes for India. Now, I had a clearance at the time, and of course I'm quite patriotic, so I looked at this and thought, "What's the right thing to do here?" I actually took the data and I discretely had a conversation with Defence about it. Because I was working in this space, I didn't really want to be identified as a source of a significant body of what probably could be classified as intelligence information, and so I asked the person involved not to reveal my name. I was happy to hand over the disc, I didn't want it.

That person, who I went to because I trusted actually, honestly said, "Look, I don't know whether I can do that." It ended up with me still having the disc after the meeting was over. Nothing came of it, I actually had encrypted the data and I had put it in a locked filing cabinet, it sat there for some time. This was all before the French even were part of or a consideration inside the [Australian] submarine program. I then, obviously as the French came into play, I thought about the fact I had this disc, I knew there was a security breach in France, but I didn't want to raise the matter at that time, because doing so would have perhaps been fatal to the French in their bid. I was writing for a defence magazine at the time, strongly encouraging a competition, I didn't want it to destroy France's chance in that competition, I didn't see it as fatal in respect of the choice.

I held off, and only when the French won, I then knew I had a problem in that I knew there was a leak in the French company that needed to be sorted out. I was somewhat obliged because I worked for a senator at that time to raise it with him. We thought about how we would reveal the fact that there was a leak, and we ended up going to the media because my attempt back in 2013 hadn't been successful, and in fact when we went to the media, I actually went to Cameron Stewart, Nick and I thought about this, I went to Cameron Stewart. One of the reasons we went to him was because he was a former DSD, or what is now ASD, employee, so I knew that he understood sensitivities.

Of course, everyone will recall the front page of The Australian when it was revealed that there was a massive security leak with the French. At no stage did I hand over any information to The Australian other than carefully redacted pages, so I'm absolutely confident from my end nothing was ever handed to anyone who shouldn't have had that information. Indeed, the morning that that article appeared in The Australian, Nick called Minister Payne and told her that I had the disc, and that I was the person who was revealing the problem, and telling her that we would in fact provide her with the disc as soon as we got back to parliament, which is exactly what we did.

Phil Tarrant: Considering this scenario, and the fact now that we're choosing French subs as our future submarine capability, is there concern for you still, or do you think it's the situation being satisfied?

Rex Patrick: Well, the point of making the disclosure was to cause a change, and I'm confident that from conversations that have taken place in Estimates since that there has been change. In fact, there are people cursing me now, occasionally people bump into me from the submarine project and they tell me that basically if you're found anywhere inside a project building with a USB stick, you get in a significant amount of trouble. I'm fairly confident both from the French side and from the Australian side that the problem has been addressed.

Phil Tarrant: You're an ex-sub man yourself, so you served on the Collins for a period of time, what's your views on this new submarine capability, do you think the subs we've chosen, number one, are going to satisfy the needs for our national security objectives, and number two, do you think we're going to be able to build the things?

Rex Patrick: Okay, that probably requires a bit of a detailed answer. Firstly, I served on the Oberon’s as well, so I did the hard yards, you know going weeks without showers and so forth, and then was actually one of the first six people posted to the Collins class submarine, and I think the first person promoted on a Collins class submarine. I left the program to work in industry because there were a number of problems, and I'm not the sort of guy that sticks around in a space where there are problems, where I can't do anything about those problems. I've lived through, or it's important as I sort of talk about the future submarine program to understand how I felt about the past program that I had been involved in and the submarines that I'd served on.

I saw, you know Collins was a struggle. Look, we’re there now with Collins, and I'm quite satisfied, I was down at ASC last week, and actually there's only one Collins class submarine down there, in fact HMAS Collins, where two or three years ago there would have been three. My understanding is there are four available to the maritime commander right now, and that's where we need to be. My concern moving forward with the Future Submarine is the risk profile of that particular program. I have no preference for a French or a German or a Japanese submarine in terms of the capability, the best people to determine what capability Australia needs is in fact the Department of Defence. However, as I said, the risk profile concerns me.

It's effectively a Bespoke submarine, now that's problematic in a couple of different ways. Firstly, if you look at pretty much any program around the world where there's a Bespoke submarine design, there's always difficulties with it, and that needs to be factored into this program. Those difficulties often cause delays in schedule. One of the concerns associated with that will be that the cost will increase, but perhaps more significantly from a national security perspective, we now have to keep our Collins Class Submarines going until such time as the Future Submarines arrives. If we have any significant delays in what is already a lengthy program in the context of the life of Collins, the first of those was supposed to be retired in 2025, I have a concern that we will bridge the capability between the current Collins Class Submarines that we have and the future submarine when it arrives.

Phil Tarrant: The Collins will be, if we maintain the upkeep, ensure that it gets the required amount of servicing, it's got to bridge this potential capability gap, you have no concerns about that at all?

Rex Patrick: Well I do, Defence have been unable to provide a cost associated with that. It's a bit like when you buy a brand new car, you drive it around for many, many years, and then a few things start to break on it and you start to reconsider your position, or perhaps more correctly the car's position, in your family. We're at that stage with Collins, where, and I repeat that I think ASC are now doing a good job and I think the Navy are doing a good job, but the cost is still quite high, the cost of sustaining those submarines is something of the order of certainly more than $500 million per annum, that's expensive. Look, my preference for the Future Submarine Program, and this moment may well have passed, would have been noting the difficulties we're having with Collins, noting the costs we're having with Collins, whilst to move to an interim submarine capability.

What I mean by that is, look, if we pick a Shortfin Barracuda as our endpoint, maybe what we should have done was gone to a Scorpene Class Submarine built by the same manufacturer, bringing them online a lot earlier, exposing ourselves to the new technology, warming the welding equipment at ASC and mitigating any risk, if indeed, as we move towards the Shortfin Barracuda, we had a capability that was modern that perhaps had AIP [Air Independent Propulsion] and all of the whiz-bang stuff that we want our sailors to have when they go to sea.

Phil Tarrant: Our capability to actually build significant naval programs, obviously developing a sovereign capability around shipbuilding is critical, I think it's a key motherhood issue that everyone is connected with and advocating, but the reality of building significant naval assets between what we can do and what we want to do, there might be a bit of a gap there, what's your view on that?

Rex Patrick: I have absolutely no reservations about us building the Future Submarines or the Future Frigates or any of the naval ships that are in the pipeline, and I say that based on my experience in the past. We've built Anzacs here, we've built frigates here, we've built Collins class submarines here, we've built Minehunters here, so we've done this before and we can do it again. There is no reservation at all in my mind that we can build these things here, and I think we should build these things here.

Phil Tarrant: Do you think we have the skilled enough workforce to mobilise to actually build them? Obviously it's some period off before cutting steel and the actual building process of it, but do you think we're doing enough to actually prepare the next generation of skilled manufacturers to put this stuff together?

Rex Patrick: Well, there's no question there's a difficulty with the ‘Valley of Death’, as it's been phrased. We have very, very skilled people down at ASC at the moment building Air Warfare Destroyers. The reality is, we will lose some of those people as the work at Techport decreases, and that means we're going to have to look to re-skill a workforce for the Future Frigates and indeed for the Future Submarines. Look, we were in the situation with the Air Warfare Destroyer, that project had a number of delays, it was costly, but the Air Warfare Destroyer was built from a greenfield site and with a company that had never built a ship before. ASC has come a long way, it's now delivering the Air Warfare Destroyers, and I think the Navy's pretty happy with them.

I'd kind of like to think of this problem in a very simple way, I think of buying IKEA furniture. The first time you buy a piece of IKEA furniture and put it together, there's always three bolts leftover and some other bit that you've got to pull the thing apart and put it back together. The second time you put together the same piece of furniture, you only make one mistake, and then the third time, you almost feel like you're an instructor. That's what happens in a shipyard when you've got new players coming in, they have to learn their trade, they will make mistakes. The reason we need to have a continuous ship building programme is so that we have these experts that have worked their way through the system, we've weeded out all the mistakes, there's mentors around, that's the important element of this continuous naval shipbuilding program.

The difficulty we've got is that we're not going to bridge the gap between the Air Warfare Destroyer and the Future Frigate with the OPV program, there's not enough people involved in the OPV program to bridge that properly. That's going to be costly to us, and it's unfortunate. It could have been avoided, there are a couple of programs where we could have injected work into Techport. The programs I'm thinking of are the Supply ships and indeed the Icebreaker, that we have exported that job to Romania. That's work that could have been done here. Now I can hear every one of your listeners saying, "Well, Techport couldn't take that capacity."

That comes back to the mention you made of the naval shipbuilding plan at the start of the interview. Unfortunately, we're in a situation where a whole bunch of decisions were made about shipbuilding, and then the plan came out. That's sort of cart before the horse. Had we looked at this, and I'm not being critical of the current government, they have done a lot in the shipbuilding space, but had we looked at this and planned this at the start and looked at the infrastructure that we required, we could have been in a situation where we could have built the Supply ships and we could have built the Icebreaker at Techport, noting that right now there's a huge infrastructure upgrade taking place at Techport. That could have been factored in, had the plan been the first thing that was the first outcome of government, rather than a series of decisions and then the plan.

That's a bit like the sovereign capability argument. My biggest fear is that the sovereign capability definition will come after the Future Frigate decision has been made, and I'll perhaps put Defence on notice, sovereign capability is an issue that I will be talking about at the next Estimates.

Phil Tarrant: What's your definition of sovereign naval shipbuilding capability?

Rex Patrick: Well, there's a couple of key elements of being sovereign, in my view. One of them is the know why, you need to have the transfer of knowledge and ownership of intellectual property here in Australia in order to be able to perhaps build ships in the future, but certainly to sustain them throughout. When I say the word "why", you can imagine a widget that has a circlip in the top right-hand corner. You can the hand the plans to that to a skilled tradesman and they can build that, they can possibly even repair it, but when it comes to replacing that, they don't know why the circlip is in the top right-hand corner. Why did the designer put it there and not put it in the bottom left-hand corner?

You need to understand the why, that's a really important factor in sovereign capability. The other one is the ability to control exports. We're unfortunately in the situation where our defence market is not big enough to support companies that don't export. Otherwise, you end up with the taxpayer bearing all of the cost of keeping the company alive, so we need to be encouraging export. Now the difficulty you have, and we can talk about the Future Frigates here, let's say Fincantieri is the winner, I have no knowledge of who will win, but let's just for-

Phil Tarrant: Is that a newsflash is it? [Laughs].

Rex Patrick: If they were to win and start building here in Australia, when a program comes up in the Philippines or somewhere in the region, and Fincantieri are interested in building those ships for that country, their first inclination will always be to tailor the program so as much work can be done in Italy as possible, they'll do that for profit reasons, for risk-related reasons. The next choice they'll have is to do it locally, in the Philippines, for example. For various different political reasons, they may choose to do that such that they win the bid.

You might have a situation where we have Fincantieri in charge here, once again, very good company, but when it comes to exporting, the decisions on where a Techport-based Fincantieri exports to will be made in Italy, those decisions will be made in Italy. An important test in my mind is where is the export control centred, is it here in Australia or is it overseas? My view generally on the way in which Defence ought to conduct its business, and I go back to things like the Kinnaird review and a number of different reviews, my view is that we should, to the extent possible, always buy off the shelf. Only in exceptional circumstances should we go down the Bespoke path.

We should build the capability wherever possible in Australia with Australian supply chains, Australian workers, we should sustain them here, and in my view, all of the local industry needs to focus on the improvements, so where we make a vessel special, where we tailor it to our needs, that is done here in Australia. The nice thing about that is if you've got an off the shelf program, it probably means you haven't got a lot of cost blowouts in your programs, and therefore you have the money to do this, you direct that at Australian industry, and now Australian industry have, A, the work they need to keep going, but they're developing IP and they're in control of the exports.

When those off-the-shelf products are sold in other places, Australian industry can offer some of that capability to the customers of the original supplier. That's sort of my view on how this ought to work. My difficulties with the Future Frigate Program is that, and we've seen that from leaked tender documents, that the Australian government is steering down a path where the person or the entity responsible that wins the tender will do both the design and the build. In my view, that's a fatally flawed approach. We clearly need a foreign designer, but the build should be done here in Australia, such that we've got two great companies, two sovereign companies with great capability, Austal and ASC.

What I'd like to see happen is that we support those companies, we support those companies because they've been here a long time, they've been investing in their staff skills, they've been investing in infrastructure, they've been developing intellectual property. I don't want to see a competitor brought into the Australian market to compete with them. It's a funny thing, we go back a few years ago and we had shipyards all around the country, and the government has sought to rationalise that, in a very sensible move in my mind, where we were left with two naval ship builders, one of them being Austal, one of them being ASC, but now we're inviting a whole bunch of them back, of overseas shipyards.

Now we've got ASC, we've got Austal, we've got Naval Group, we've got Lürssen, we're about to invite another player into the market, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Sovereign industry for me is about developing intellectual property, about exporting, and we need a government that supports companies that have invested here in Australia, companies like SAAB, companies like Thales, Sonartech Atlas, Acacia Research, all good Australian companies that are in here for the long term. They've not turned up because there was a contract for them to do some work, they're here and they're here to stay.

Phil Tarrant: In the spirit of sovereign capability in shipbuilding, in the context of Future Submarines, Minister Pyne, 90% figure on what's going to be built here or what's going to be built abroad. You guys, Nick Xenophon Team, going to keep the minister accountable to that number?

Rex Patrick: Absolutely, we're here to make sure that the government and defence maximise Australian industry content. Look, the reality was, prior to the last election, Nick perhaps on my advice, because I was familiar with Collins, was using a number of about 70% as a reasonable benchmark, as a standard by which we should hold defence to. However, the CEO of then-DCNS came out and said 90% local, and that was backed by the minister, and so that's their number. Yeah, we will try and hold them to that at every opportunity.

Phil Tarrant: Do you think it's a realistic number?

Rex Patrick: What's important is they were confident enough to think it was a realistic number, so yeah, their number. I would have a difficulty if indeed in the cabinet submissions, representation was made about 90%, so you have a decision based on a number that people then abandon after the decision is made. Look, that's the number that Christopher has said, and that's the number me and my colleagues are going to hold them to.

Phil Tarrant: Okay, it's a big number. In your maiden speech to the senate, you alluded to serious cultural issues within the Department of Defence's relationship with the senate, so severely delayed responses, vague responses, defence figures refusing to answer questions, et cetera et cetera. How are you going to change this?

Rex Patrick: Comes back to what I said during the interview about I've got to do my job properly. Every job I've taken on, I've sought to do it properly. So what are my jobs? Well, there's two jobs for a senator or for the senate, one of them is to review and pass legislation, and I think we do that well. We end up with not always what the government wants, but we'll end up with something that probably represents the sort of democratic people we represent, so we sort of get a democratic outcome. The other function of the senate is oversight, and that's something I'm going to take very, very seriously, and it was a topic in my maiden speech. The House of Reps, they don't do oversight, because the government always has the numbers.

The only place that can be done is in the Senate, and the job of oversight is one that is a constitutional role, it's section 49 of the Constitution, basically places that responsibility upon us. Now, oversight doesn't mean that you attack people. Defence, as I said, I'm a strong advocate of national security, however we also have to make sure that when taxpayers' money is spent, it's spent wisely. It's no good just running around saying, "I'm spending money," that's an easy thing to do. To spend it wisely is much, much harder, and to execute programs. My job is to inquire into how we are spending money and how we are executing those programmes, so we safeguard the taxpayers' money, and we also make sure that they are, whichever organisation, whether it be Defence, health, education, that they are discharging their public responsibilities properly.

So, how do we do oversight? Well, we sometimes ask questions of ministers, we sometimes seek the production of documents, we sometimes hold inquiries, we conduct Estimates. All of that is about making sure that we are well informed as to what government is doing, and that we can put pressure on to cause change for the better. Now in the past, Defence haven't necessarily been open with the Senate. I can't remember who it was, but when Dennis Richardson was retiring, someone said he'd attended something like 20 or 30 Estimates sessions and not had to answer one question. Now that was said in humour, but the reality is, my role requires that I ask questions, and when those questions are asked, I expect to get answers to those questions.

There was an incident in the Senate on the 15th of December when I was asking questions of defence, simply I asked a question about a date actually, what date did defence start considering Austal as part of the Lürssen bid, and defence were reluctant to answer that question. Now in my view, that's a very reasonable question, I wasn't asking them for missile codes, I wasn't asking them for how they're conducting operations deep inside some foreign country, I was just asking the date in which they started considering something. They haven't answered, and as a result of that, I'm now putting pressure back on the government such that I do get an answer to that question, and any other reasonable question that I ask, it's my view that as a cross-bencher, we respect that the public have voted in a particular party to govern.

My job is to work with government, that doesn't mean we let them get away with anything, and we hold them to account, but we try and let them implement their legislative agenda, we try and work with them so that they can execute the programs that they need to execute. But when you work together, you work together, and that means that if I do ask a question in that oversight role, no matter how embarrassing the answer may be or how uncomfortable they may feel from a governing perspective, those questions need to be answered. If I ask a question that involves some sensitivity, they have an opportunity to say to me, "Look Senator, that is sensitive for this reason, and this is the harm that will flow from answering that question." Ultimately it's for the Senate to decide whether or not they accept that answer, but just saying, "No, we're not going to answer," is not an acceptable proposition.

Phil Tarrant: Okay, so I take that as a pretty clear message that you're going to be asking some challenging questions and you're expecting some answers.

Rex Patrick: I think Defence probably understood that I'll ask some challenging questions, it's the bit about the answers that I'm just trying to make sure that everyone understands. If I ask a reasonable question, it's not unreasonable I get an answer to it.

Phil Tarrant: Well we'll be tuning in to these things, and we always do, and we do enjoy the discussions, so it'll be interesting to see what sort of answers you get.

Rex Patrick: The nice thing about you guys in the Fourth Estate is you keep us honest as well, it's a great sort of system where everyone watches each other and no one's quite got all of the power. That's the nice thing.

Phil Tarrant: Well, it's a beautiful thing about a democracy, right?

Rex Patrick: Yeah.

Phil Tarrant: Anyway, I'm going to end on that note. Senator Rex Patrick, let's get you back in, that's a lot more questions, but I appreciate your insight and your frankness, and as an Australian taxpayer, I believe in the democratic system. I think we need guys like you doing the job that you do to make sure that people who are spending the money, that we will invest in doing it appropriately and for the right cause. Unlike some of the other portfolios that you operate within defence, it's something which is central to every Australian, so keep it up. It's good, I enjoy it. Remember, check out defenceconnect.com.au, if you're not yet subscribing to our daily morning market intelligence, make sure you do, defenceconnect.com.au/subscribe.

Any questions for me or observations or anything for Senator Rex Patrick, you can contact the team and we'll engage in a dialogue, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you'd like to get your info on social media, just search defenceconnect, and you'll track us down. Senator, thank you for your time.

Rex Patrick: Thank you, Phil.

Phil Tarrant: We'll see you again soon, bye-bye.